Home > Winedr Blog

Loire Misunderstood #4: Sancerre; not for the Sauvignon

It’s been a while since I have taken the opportunity to promulgate one of my beliefs regarding the wines of the Loire Valley. Indeed, the last episode seems to have been the Light and Easy-Drinking Reds post that I wrote back in July. Time to get on with another one, I think.

A focus for my updates next year will the central vineyards, i.e. Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé and Menetou-Salon, long overdue I think, a realisation that came to me when I visited Sancerre and Chavignol earlier this year. When Sancerre is good, I really enjoy it. When it isn’t, it can be pretty horrible stuff. I believe in part this reflects fruit ripeness, as certainly the less appealing wines usually have a fairly raw, green fruit character to them that never appeals to my palate.

This is looking at Sancerre at a very basic level though – after all, anybody can distinguish between unripe and ripe Sauvignon Blanc. You only have to look at the wines of Graves, and contrast those that delay for ripeness (Domaine de Chevalier, Smith-Haut-Lafitte, Brown) with those that tend to pick earlier (Olivier, Carbonnieux) to see what a huge effect picking ripe fruit can have. It’s just the same in Sancerre.

Sauvignon Blanc on a sorting table, October 2013

Where Sancerre starts to get really interesting though is in terroir expression; this is where the wines leave behind the fruit flavours (green or otherwise) that we would normally associate with Sauvignon Blanc (you know the drill – green bell pepper, asparagus and pea, moving to yellow pepper, yellow plum and ultimately passion fruit when ripe) and begin to express characteristics that talk more of the soils that the fruit. I assume this reflects yields as well as ripeness, and perhaps there are other nuances also at play. I aim to find out more next year.

Most of Sancerre is limestone, with terres blanches (classic Kimmeridgian limestone, like Chablis) or caillottes (much more stony soils, often Portlandian/Oxfordian). The major difference this engenders is in the substance of the wine, which is frequently quite bold, firm and structured in style. The flavours can vary from orchard fruit to a more minerally character, reminiscent of white stone. A much rarer terroir is silex, in other words flint; here the wine often seems to have a more lifted, dancing character, with a lacy, filigree style; I often liken it to Mosel Riesling more than any other wine, although obviously it doesn’t have the sweetness or the Riesling character. But look beyond technical issues such as residual sugar, and mere flavours, to the way the wine feels in the mouth, and you will see the similarities. The flavours often tend more towards citrus character, especially tangerine and other orange fruits, all of which would be very surprising to a palate used only to, for example, Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.

It is really at this stage that Sancerre gets interesting to me. It is strange to think so much New World Sauvignon Blanc was planted to emulate this style, and yet at the very peak of the Sancerre appellation there is really no suggestion on the palate that Sauvignon even has a role here. I come to these wines to sense the soils from which they come, not for the Sauvignon.

Another Enticing Beaujolais

It’s always fun to discover a new and enjoyable wine; it’s even better when you realise it isn’t a one-off, and that the domaine in question can give you more of the same. I recently enjoyed the 2011 Régnié from Domaine Lagneau, and from the same source I have found the 2011 Côte-de-Brouilly to be similarly enticing. Proprietor Gérard Lagneau has just 0.6 hectares in this Beaujolais cru, as opposed to 12 hectares in Régnié. The philosophy is the same – enherbement, working the soil, lutte raisonnée, semi-carbonic maceration, temperature control and no added yeast.

Domaine Lagneau Côte de Brouilly 2011

Domaine Lagneau Côte de Brouilly 2011: This has a dark core and yet a vibrant plum hue to the rim. There is a really confident fruit-rich nose, dark with notes of blackberry, creamed plum and dark cherry. There is a little savoury, earthy tobacco-tinged note first, but this seems to give way to a more polished, vanilla coated character later on. This is followed by a cool yet weighty seam of dark berry fruit in the mouth and the middle is just as dark and characterful, and here it does show a little savoury hint, as well as some ripe, velvety tannins. It culminates in a clean acid-fresh finish, with a little residual grip. I like it. More please. 16.5/20 (December 2013)

Disclosure: This wine was a sample from Winedoctor sponsor Cadman Fine Wines.

Return to Minerality: Acidity

In this little series on minerality – from which I have had an enforced break, partly down to my trip to the Loire to see the 2013 harvest in action and my Bordeaux 2013 reports – I have looked at many different explanations for the mysterious ‘minerality’ that now seems so commonplace in wine. Some explanations that have been offered – such as the presence of minerals, chemical or geological, in the wine, just don’t ring true. Others, however, have more promise; of these, the most enticing is related to what is commonly termed ‘reduction’, which is actually the presence of mercaptans in the wine, mercaptans commonly being produced during fermentation of nutrient-poor (especially nitrogen-poor) musts. Their presence is enhanced by protecting the embryonic wine from oxygen, hence they have become associated with ‘reductive’ winemaking techniques, and in a leap of faith have since been ascribed by many to reduction itself, which of course isn’t quite true. See my previous posts, starting with my examination of minerality and soil minerals, for more information.

Throughout all my previous posts, however, there has been an elephant in the room, and this particular elephant’s name is acidity. Acidity, and its relationship with minerality, has been there in the back of my mind all along, and it has eventually come to the fore. Now it’s time to take a look at acidity in a little more detail.

It seems to me that there is a strong correlation between the presence of minerality and acidity in wine. Draw up a short-list of wines that show minerality – Riesling from the Mosel and Rhine Valleys in Germany and Alsace in France, Chablis, Loire whites including both Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc and so on, and you clearly have a list of northern cool-climate wines that also tend towards higher levels of acidity. The correlation is far from solid, however, as there are many white wines rich in acidity that do not necessarily show minerally characters. This shouldn’t dissuade us from pursuing acidity as a potential part of the minerality ‘story’ though, as it may be that some other process in the winery influences whether or not acidic wines hold onto their ‘minerality’ (rather akin to how the presence of mercaptans can be preserved, or disrupted, by winery practices). Alternatively, it might be some aspect of the vineyard that is associated with minerality which also enhances the acidity. More on this in a minute.

Minerality and Acidity

The commonly proposed theory is that minerality in wine is not due to minerals at all (we know that much already), but is in fact down to the presence of acidity, perhaps accentuated by a lack of fruit ripeness which would otherwise disguise the chalky/stony/slatey minerality of the acids. This might explain why only more cool-climate northern regions tend to show minerality as although all wines have acidity it is only these regions that would produce wines with the lower levels of ripe-fruit character necessary to induce the ‘minerally’ sensation. Terroir may also be important; this is a vital consideration if we are to somehow link the apparent relationship between minerally wines, and minerally terroirs. It is plausible that some soils may influence acidity (and thus minerality) levels through their ability to radiate heat back to the vines and fruit, or by their propensity (or lack of it) to hold onto water. In addition it seems accepted that more alkaline soils – such as limestone, as found in Chablis, Sancerre and Vouvray, for example – tend to produce wines with higher acidity (regardless of how incongruous this birth of acidity from alkalinity may seem!). Variety must also play a role, as some varieties seem to express minerality much better than than others; Riesling in Alsace, for example, might be regarded as more minerally than Gewurztraminer. Riesling is also the more acidic of the two varieties, wines made from Gewurztraminer tending more towards a softer, low-acid style.

It all seems very tempting. Surely soil, acidity and minerality are intertwined? I see a couple of minor problems with the concept of low-fruit-ripeness plus acidity as the cause of minerality, and these are as follows;

First, the term ‘minerality’ has really only entered the wine tasting lexicon in the past 10 or 15 years. And yet the features that have been discussed here – soil, stones, climate, variety – all of which may have some effect on the eventual acidity level in the wine in question, seem to me to be long-standing constants. Sancerre has been as we know it today really since the immediate post-phylloxera era, when Sauvignon Blanc came to dominate the appellation (in place of Pinot Noir, which had been the mainstay until that time) during the replanting. The variety, the limestone soils, these are unchanged, so why weren’t tasters reporting this minerally sensation in the 1960s and 1970s?

Secondly, it seems very unlikely that we should suddenly begin detecting acidity as minerality, when acidity itself gives such a clear message to the palate. I’m not really prepared to accept that minerality and acidity are one and the same. Nevertheless it seems clear that minerality and higher acidity are related in some way; many observers – writers, critics, sommeliers, winemakers – have reported a correlation between the two. This has been confirmed in sensory studies, such as that by Wendy Parr of the University of Lincoln which was published in New Zealand Winegrower this year. In her study, Parr recorded the tasting opinions of groups of French and New Zealand tasters (all wine industry professionals), all of whom sat down to blind-taste 16 French and New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs. Looking at their assessments, it was clear that there was a correlation between perceived sourness/acidity and the perception of minerality in a wine. This still doesn’t tell us what is causing the sensation of minerality though, although again the combination of high acidity and low fruit-ripeness is put forward by Parr and colleagues. Of note though, other perceived aromas felt to be a description of minerality demonstrated a correlation with ‘reductive’ sulphide characteristics. Acidity seems to be part of the story, even if it is perhaps nothing more than a constant spectator, or perhaps a catalyst, but here again we have ‘reduction’ – as I discussed in Mineralty – A Reductive Phenomenon? – raising its head. I can’t help feeling – especially with changes in winemaking practises pushing many wines towards a more reductive character in recent years – that ‘reduction’, or rather mercaptans, play a somewhat more significant role than acidity.

Further reading: Parr W, Ballester J, Valentin D, Peyron D, Sherlock R, Robinson B, Breitmeyer J, Darriet P, and Grose C. 2013 The nature of perceived minerality in white wine: preliminary sensory data. New Zealand Winegrower, 78, 71-75. Link (forward to page 71)

Four from the Loire

Four very impressive wines from the Loire Valley, three of which were of some age, recently tasted with Jim Budd. My thanks to Jim for pulling the cork on these; the two Chinons in particular were memorable bottles that contributed in no small way to my ever-continuing, life-long Loire education.

Charles Joguet Chinon Clos de la Dioterie 1989: Showing some maturity, paling in terms of hue, but still fresh and bright. The aromatics are delightful, fresh and expressive, and increasingly complex the more I return to the wine. There is a sweetness to the fruit still, but also a more savoury and evolved quality reminiscent of black bean and soy sauce, perhaps a little balsamic too. Along with this there is a little sliver of green, but not one that detracts from the wine, but instead lifts it up a level. The palate is evolved, still with appealing substance, and also energetic and firm, with a softening texture and evolved characteristics like those on the nose. So long and full. A superb wine. 18.5/20 (October 2013)

Domaine de la Perrière Chinon Vieilles Vignes 1989: From Jean and Christophe Baudry. The colour here is a little deeper and more confident than the Dioterie from Charles Joguet, tasted alongside. It has a smoky and evolved, lifted nose, not so complex as the Dioterie perhaps, but it does seem to look more clearly to the future. The palate is sweet, evolved, with good flesh and depth, and although the evolution is not as apparent as I would have hoped I have to acknowledge that this wine probably has decades ahead of it yet. All the same, right now it feels energetic and bright, polished and long. A very good wine, and one that is potentially great given time. 18/20 (October 2013)

Château du Breuil Coteaux du Layon Beaulieu 2007: A pale golden hue here, and a very classic nose of honey and mineral-schist, with nuances of cinder toffee. The palate has a very fine freshness to it, a bitter and pithy grip which really appeals, being wholly subsumed by the flesh and concentrated fruit of the midpalate. This is tense, with great grip and pithy acidity through the middle. A classically styled and quite exceptional wine, which could age brilliantly, from a relatively (compared to the greats of Anjou) unsung domaine. 17.5/20 (October 2013)

Domaine Ogereau Coteaux du Layon Saint Lambert Cuvée Nectar 1990: An amazing colour, a burnished orange-golden hue, and yet it is bright, with a red-pink hue, almost like a very confused sunset. The nose is redolent of orange zest, coffee and cinder toffee, and shows great character and admirably evolved style. In the mouth it is very rich and broad in keeping with the vintage, and the overall impact of the wine so far. The breadth and sweet polish is matched by some structural elements, which largely come from the bitter grip possessed by the wine, rather than the acidity which seems rather muted, perhaps typical of 1990. The finish is long and pithy, the flavours sweet and tinged with toffee. Overall, this is an excellent wine, and very true to the vintage in question. 17.5/20 (October 2013)

Bordeaux 2013: Olivier Berrouet, Petrus

After leaving Denis Durantou I made my way over to Petrus, where I had an appointment with Olivier Berrouet at, if memory serves me correctly, 4:15pm. Petrus has been a building site for the past year or so, and as this was where my appointment was I was expecting to see all the hoardings and fences taken down on my arrival. It wasn’t so, and in fact the place was deserted except for a few workmen.

Certain that I must have either the time or venue incorrect, I decided to phone to check. A few phone calls (in fractured French) later and I had determined I was at the right place, at the right time. And then, up above me, from the Petrus ‘site office’ (the uppermost of two stacked containers with windows) apeared Olivier Berrouet. I hadn’t even noticed the offices.

After unlocking one of the giant doors to the new chai we headed inside. Olivier Berrouet poured a glass of the 2012 Petrus, and I asked him about the 2013 vintage. I think Olivier (pictured below) was tired though; it was late Friday afternoon on October 25th, and the work had been non-stop since harvest began in early October. He was looking forward to his first weekend off all month. As such, our conversation ended up being quite short.

Me: Please tell me about the 2013 vintage and harvest.

Olivier: It is a small harvest this year, but I don’t have the exact figures yet (obviously they had the same coulure here as elsewhere, with Merlot worst hit). It has been a complicated growing season, but we didn’t suffer with rot. This was because we intervened at the right moment with the necessary treatments.

Olivier Berrouet, Petrus, October 2013

This is surprising to many people; even my father did not believe it (Olivier’s father, Jean-Claude Berrouet, was winemaker at Petrus for 44 vintages before Olivier took on the role). He was in California (I assume because he continues to consult, and he has clients there) and he didn’t believe me. He felt we should be out picking when we didn’t need to as we weren’t suffering the same rot as others. Then he returned, and saw it for himself.

We began picking on October 1st, and finished on October 8th. The harvest went well, except for a little rain on October 4th. Not enough to cause any major problems though.

With that, I left Petrus, and headed back to my hotel. It has been fascinating hearing about the vintage direct from the horses’ mouths, and I hope readers have found these little 2013 reports interesting too. This report brings these series of updates to an end though. Next stop, the primeurs, in April next year, when I will be able to taste the young wines for myself and see how the winemakers have dealt with what 2013 threw at them.

These early Bordeaux 2013 reports are essentially funded by Winedoctor subscribers, the first purpose of this latest trip to Bordeaux having been to taste 2011s for a forthcoming report on that vintage. If you find these reports interesting, please consider taking out a subscription to Winedoctor.

Bordeaux 2013: Denis Durantou, L`Eglise-Clinet

After leaving Baptiste Guinaudeau at Lafleur it was another micro-drive to meet Denis Durantou at Château L’Église-Clinet. This was an interesting meeting, as Denis flitted between several visitors (including me) who had all turned up at the same time. After pulling the cork on three of his 2011s, L’Église-Clinet, Les Cruzelles and Montlandrie, we spoke of 2013. This was quite a different experience to many of my other meetings; whereas throughout my trip to Bordeaux the mood on 2013 had been generally rather muted, Denis was robust in his defence of the vintage. He was also the only person to offer a taste of 2013 to back up his claims.

As with some of my other reports I’ve translated from French. Hopefully I’ve got it correct.

Me: Please tell me about the 2013 vintage and harvest.

Denis: It’s like this. In 2013 we had a little hail, and then we had a little rain. This is all normal. Ultimately we harvested during mid-October – this is normal. So the vintage is a little later than ideal – this is normal.

Denis clearly felt the vintage to be normal. I didn’t think I would get any further detail than this, so changed tack.

Me: Please tell me how 2013 differs from previous vintages.

Denis: It is a vintage in which I believe that the greatest terroirs will do best. There was a problem with rot on some vines, but this was not the case on my old vines. We have less tannin than in other recent vintages, such as 2012, but this is not a problem. On the whole, I don’t have any major problems in this vintage.

Denis Durantou, Château L'Église-Clinet

To drive home his message, Denis (pictured above) poured a sample of a 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, from the Montlandrie estate in Castillon (labelled as 802 – I believe this was the plot number). There was no denying that this wine, with a dark hue and vibrant crimson rim, showed no sign of vegetal flavours. It was clean and crunchy, youthful, the fruit ripe and pure, with a fresh, clean character and most importantly ripe tannins. It was convincing.

Alright, so one sample from one plot on one estate does not prove anything, but Denis clearly had some reason to be confident about the vintage. He pointed at the glass.

Denis: And this is Cabernet Sauvignon, and it is not a great terroir. If we can achieve this at Montlandrie……

The implication is clearly that others, working grander terroirs, may well have achieved more. Despite this, other than Denis, the Bordelais are very muted when talking of this vintage. I am really looking forward to tasting the wines during the primeurs next year.

In the meantime though, on with my visits, and my final 2013 chat of the day, and my final update, will come from Olivier Berrouet of Petrus.

These early Bordeaux 2013 reports are essentially funded by Winedoctor subscribers, the first purpose of this latest trip to Bordeaux having been to taste 2011s for a forthcoming report on that vintage. If you find these reports interesting, please consider taking out a subscription to Winedoctor.

Bordeaux 2013: Baptiste Guinaudeau, Lafleur

It’s a one-minute walk from Le Gay to Lafleur, both properties sitting just to the north of Petrus, the latter two châteaux firmly on the Pomerol plateau, Le Gay just on the edge as it slopes down to the Barbanne. It’s about fifteen seconds by car. I pulled up and was greeted by Sylvie Guinaudeau; we spoke for a while about work at Lafleur and Grand Village, their estate in Fronsac, and we also talked of their holiday in Scotland last year. The Guinaudeau family sell some of their used barrels to one of Scotland’s leading whisky distilleries, Bruichladdich, who make a series of whisky releases from various top Bordeaux estates including Latour, Lafite-Rothschild, Yquem, Haut-Brion, Lafleur and others under their First Growth label, and so they were delighted to be able to visit the distillery.

Before long Baptiste Guinaudeau appeared, and we went inside to the living room of the château where he and his wife reside (Jacques and Sylvie live at Grand Village). After tasting the 2011s, grand vin and second wine, as well as the 2012 (a bonus!), talk turned to 2013. As with quite a few of these Bordeaux 2013 reports the meeting was conducted in French, and I have translated Baptiste’s words; I hope I have got it all correct!

Me: Please tell me about the 2013 vintage and harvest.

Baptiste: In a vintage such as 2013 vintage you need everything nicely organised, otherwise you end up in big trouble.

There was a lot of rain during the winter and spring, although this wasn’t a real problem here as our soils can absorb a lot of water.

Baptiste Guinaudeau, Château Lafleur, October 2013

Thereafter we saw unfavourable weather during spring, in particular May was 3ºC colder than normal. As a result flowering was impaired, although we were not hit as bad as some other domaines. There was a reduction of about 20% in the Merlots.

Thereafter late spring and early summer had some better weather, with June and July both hot, and the rest of the summer remained hot and dry. August was very sunny, and it was a little like 2008 in some ways, a vintage that was somewhere between Bordeaux and Burgundy.

I don’t have firm information on yields yet, the Merlots are down, but not dramatically so. As for how the wine tastes, we will see at the primeurs.

I left Baptiste before I would have liked to, as another appointment was looming. Happily I managed to squeeze in a taste of that 2012 Lafleur before I left for my appointment with Denis Durantou at Château L’Église-Clinet, from where I will file my next report.

These early Bordeaux 2013 reports are essentially funded by Winedoctor subscribers, the first purpose of this latest trip to Bordeaux having been to taste 2011s for a forthcoming report on that vintage. If you find these reports interesting, please consider taking out a subscription to Winedoctor.

Bordeaux 2013: Vincent Bernard, Le Gay

I pulled up at Le Gay dead on time and Vincent Bernard (pictured below), technical director for Domaines Péré-Vergé appeared on the steps of the château before I had even turned off the ignition. Two minutes later we were inside, and Vincent was pulling the corks on all his 2011s. Once we had finished working though those wines, I steered the conversation towards the 2013 vintage.

Me: Please tell me about the 2013 vintage and harvest.

Vincent: This has been a vintage marked by rain and high humidity. This was the case during the spring, and as a result the flowering was impaired. Therefore we had a lot of coulure, and the harvest will be very small as a result.

Vincent Bernard, Château Le Gay, October 2013

Again at harvest time we had rain, and there was a need for a lot of selection. We started picking on October 1st, and finished on October 11th. We carried out a our first selection among the vines, and then a further selection after the fruit had arrived at the chai. This is very important in this vintage.

A few parcels were hit by botrytis near the end of the picking, and we carried out a berry-by-berry selection in order to get the best quality fruit, using intact rot-free berries. The selection at La Violette was meticulous, with sorters going over individual berries before the fruit went into the fermentation vats with dry ice (Vincent showed me some pictures of the La Violette sorters seated around small tables and chairs, which looked as though they had been requisitioned from the local primary school, each sorter picking over individual berries).

The yields will be very low, but I am unsure of the figures at the moment.

My thanks to Vincent for his time. After leaving Le Gay I turned right, and headed for Château Lafleur, an exhausting drive which lasted all of about 15 seconds. Well, that’s Pomerol for you.

These early Bordeaux 2013 reports are essentially funded by Winedoctor subscribers, the first purpose of this latest trip to Bordeaux having been to taste 2011s for a forthcoming report on that vintage. If you find these reports interesting, please consider taking out a subscription to Winedoctor.

Bordeaux 2013: Pierre-Olivier Clouet, Cheval Blanc

Having driven cross-country from Cadillac to Libourne it was dark when I arrived at my hotel. There was time to grab a bite to eat and also a beer (essential after a day of tasting wine, wine and more wine) in the hotel bar before I hit the sack. The next day I struck out for Château Cheval Blanc under skies that were grey, heavy and oppressive. Before long the heavens had opened and it was really bucketing down. With wipers on double-speed I edged my way among the vineyards of Pomerol to the edge of the appellation, where – just on the far side of the boundary with the appellation of St Emilion – Cheval Blanc can be found.

A few minutes later I was shaking hands with Pierre-Oliver Clouet, who has been technical director at Cheval Blanc for a few years now. We made our way through the new cellars, and up to one of the tasting rooms. After working my way through Cheval Blanc, Le Petit Cheval and Quinault L’Enclos from the 2011 vintage, I asked Pierre-Olivier about how things had gone this year.

Me: Please tell me about the 2013 vintage and harvest.

Pierre-Olivier: This has been a very complicated vintage, one that has been very difficult because at the beginning we had lots of rain. During the flowering 70mm fell on our vineyards, which made it very difficult for the vines to flower, and as a consequence we had reduced flowering and fruit-set, leading to reduced volumes at harvest.

It is not just about reduced volumes though, this has also been a growing season for very heterogeneous fruit, and during July and August we carried out a lot of work in the vineyard to remove the greener fruit in order to obtain a better homogeneity, to bring the maturity of what fruit we had closer together. Thankfully we had a dry summer, giving us very small berries, which is important for the concentration of the juice and the wine.

Pierre-Olivier Clouet, Château Cheval Blanc, October 2013

During September and October though, the weather was very difficult again, and we carried out a meticulous parcel-by-parcel harvest. I was pleased to discover that the fruit and wine did not taste vegetal, although I thought before I tasted it that it would. The wines seem balanced but without a great degree of concentration.

This was a vintage in which soil has been important. Vines planted on clay achieved a good ripeness, but on sand this was not so. We have about 15% of our vines planted on sandy soils and the fruit from these vines is not good – it is going to be sold off. The quality from vines on gravelly soils is in the middle, between the clay and the sandy terroirs.

It has been a vintage I would liken to 1984 or 1993 (I have to confess I wonder how well Pierre-Olivier remembers 1984 – I was still at school then, and I am sure I am quite a few years older than him). It has been very humid, and it is important to sort out the green and the rotten fruit which, as I have already indicated, was a greater problem with the more sandy terroirs. Here the rain caused a rapid swelling of the fruit after the vines took up the water. This was not such a problem on the gravel and clay soils though.

We started picking on September 30th. Overall I think we have discarded 5% of the harvest at picking, although it depends on the soils again; on some parcels everything was good, on others we threw away as much as 12%. In doing so we were careful to exclude 100% of the rot from the chai. We finally finished on October 15th, and our ultimate yield was just 20 hl/ha, obviously much lower than is usual.

Our meeting over, I bade Pierre-Oliver farewell. Outside the rain was easing, and as the day went on it became warm and very humid. This has been the story of the 2013 harvest in a nutshell, with a day or two of rain usually followed by great heat and high humidity as a result.

From here I went to Château Taillefer, although this was a much longer visit which I will use to update my profile of this Pomerol château. Thereafter I made my way to Château Le Gay, to hear more news on 2013, and it is from this latter estate that I will next report.

These early Bordeaux 2013 reports are essentially funded by Winedoctor subscribers, the first purpose of this latest trip to Bordeaux having been to taste 2011s for a forthcoming report on that vintage. If you find these reports interesting, please consider taking out a subscription to Winedoctor.

Bordeaux 2013: Turid Hoel Alcaras, Haut-Brion

I sped away from my meeting with Thomas Duroux at Palmer and for once the Rocade was my friend; I hit Bordeaux’s somewhat infamous ring road late afternoon, and I was concerned that rush-hour traffic may have already been building. Happily it wasn’t the case, and there were no delays. As a result I arrived at Château Haut-Brion just in time, not bad for the last appointment on a day which had seen me kick off in Margaux at 9am before then heading all the way up to St Estèphe via Pauillac, before heading down to Pessac via Margaux again.

I parked up and entered; my appointment was with Turid Hoel Alcaras, who manages public relations for Domaines Clarence Dillon, owners of both Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion. I had to wait a few minutes while she bade farewell to a visiting wine merchant from Hungary and we then made our way upstairs to the Haut-Brion tasting room. With a lot of wines from the 2011 vintage to taste (this was the year that they started with Quintus, and so there were nine wines to get through) the talk naturally focused on this vintage. As the hour drew to a close, however, I asked Turid how the 2013 vintage had gone at Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion.

Me: Please tell me about the 2013 vintage and harvest.

Turid: This has been a really complicated vintage. Early on it was wet and cool, and we didn’t really have a spring as such. This interfered with the flowering, reducing yields. Thereafter, however, we had a nice summer, we were fortunate as we were not hit by the hail unlike many other growers in the region (Turid is talking about all Bordeaux here – there wasn’t a particular problem with hail in Pessac-Léognan). We did have some thunderstorms though, although not enough to do any damage.

We often begin harvesting the white varieties in August, but this year we started in September, so this is a little later than is usual. The red varieties we began picking in later September, again we usually start earlier than this (Haut-Brion’s position south of Bordeaux, plus it’s urban mesoclimate, gives it a ripening advantage and picking dates are often earlier than you might expect here, and potential alcohols tend to be higher too).

Château Haut-Brion

The humidity complicated things towards the end (this would appear to be a euphemism for advancing botrytis rot) and so we then rushed towards a quick finish, with everything picked by October 11th. The pickers were working seven days a week, even picking on a Sunday – they were very tired by the time it was all over!

The Merlots are nice (notably, this differs to every other report I have heard) but it is too early to say regarding the Cabernets. What we can say is that the volumes are very low (unfortunately I couldn’t draw any figures on yields from Turid, but it seems the volume picked here is likely to be 30 hl/ha or less, matching other figures up and down the left bank). The whites are good too, the Sauvignon Blanc was particularly nice at picking, although more sorting was required for the Semillon. The wines are all still undergoing second fermentations at present, and so we haven’t had a chance to really look at them yet.

I thanked Turid for her time and I followed my visit with a short walk around the vineyard of Haut-Brion in order to take some photographs. I then hopped in my car and headed south, passing through Barsac, to see what was going on there. Being late in the day the region was deserted, and looking at the vineyards of Climens and other nearby properties all the harvesting had finished, the vines more-or-less picked clean. By all accounts there has been success in Sauternes this year, with at least one large-volume high-quality botrytis-rich picking at the beginning of the harvest. I look forward to tasting the wines next year.

I should perhaps have popped in to see the affable Jean-Pierre Meslier at Raymond-Lafon, but the light was now fading fast, and instead I crossed the Garonne at Cadillac and made my way over to my hotel in Libourne. I needed to catch up on some sleep before my 9am appointment at Cheval Blanc tomorrow morning.

These early Bordeaux 2013 reports are essentially funded by Winedoctor subscribers, the first purpose of this latest trip to Bordeaux having been to taste 2011s for a forthcoming report on that vintage. If you find these reports interesting, please consider taking out a subscription to Winedoctor.